Arunachal Pradesh, the 24th state of the Indian Union attained statehood on February 20, 1987. It lies to the north of Assam covering an area of 83,743 sq km with Itanagar as its capital. Comprising 26 major tribes, Arunachal Pradesh has a population of 8,58,392 according to the 1991 census. The hills of Arunachal, the largest of the seven Northeast states, are the first to greet each dawn in the country.
Earlier as a Union Territory, it was known as the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA). Arunachal Pradesh was christened so in 1972. The state has undergone several political changes and is of considerable geo-political importance. It shares boundaries with Myanmar on the east, Bhutan on the west, China on the north and Assam on its south.
This ancient land finds mention in the Kalika Purana, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The scriptures say that it was here that Parasuram washed away his sins, where Vyas meditated, Bhismaka founded his kingdom, Lord Krishna married his consort Rukmini, and King Balinarayan enlisted men for his army. The sixth Dalai Lama of Tibet was born in Arunachal Pradesh and the 13th – the present Dalai Lama- fled to India through here in 1959.
Forming part of the eastern Himalayan range, the state’s climate varies from sub-tropical in the south to alpine in the north. Its luxuriant rainforests cover more than 60 per cent of the state with turbulent streams and rivers, deep gorges and lofty mountains. The state boasts of hundreds of species of rare orchids, besides a bewildering variety of avian and faunal wealth. The altitude of its hills and mountain ranges vary from 2,740 metres to 6,400 metres. The major rivers of the state are Tirap, Lohit, Siang, Subansiri and Kameng. The Siang merges with the Lohit and Dibang to form the majestic Brahmaputra in Assam.
History and people
The state?s inhabitants belong to the Mongolian and Tibeto-Burman tribes. Most tribal communities in the state are ethnically similar, drawing lineage from the original common stock. But their geographical isolation has brought among them certain distinct characteristics in language, dress and customs. Some of their dances incorporate steps from the martial arts of the Adi, Wancho and Nocte tribes.
The people may be divided into three cultural groups on the basis of their socio-religious affinities. The Monpas and Sherdukpens of Tawang and West Kameng districts follow the Lamaistic tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. The villages of these communities have richly decorated Buddhist temples, locally known as gompas. Though by and large agriculturists practising terrace cultivation, many of these people are also pastoral and breed herds of yak and mountain sheep. Culturally similar to them are Membas and Khambas, who live in the high mountains along the northern border. The Khamptis and Singphos inhabiting the eastern part of the state are Buddhists of the Hinayana sect. They migrated from Myanmar at the end of the 18th century.
The second group of people are the Adis, Akas, Apatanis, Bangnis, Nishis (earlier known as Daflas), Mishmis, Mijis, Tangsas and others, who worship the Sun and Moon Gods, namely Donyi-Polo, and Abo-Tani, the original ancestor of these tribes. Their religious rituals largely coincide with the agricultural cycles. They invoke natural deities and offer animal sacrifices. They also practise jhum or shifting cultivation.
Adis and Apatanis extensively practise wet rice cultivation and have a considerable agricultural economy. The Apatanis are renowned for their scientific and sustainable methods of paddy-cum-pisciculture. Over the centuries they have specialised in harvesting fish along with each paddy crop on their tiny plateau.
The third group comprises Noctes and Wanchos, adjoining Nagaland in the Tirap and Changlang districts. These are hardy people known for their strictly structured village society in which the hereditary village chief plays a vital role. The Noctes practise an elementary form of Vaishnavism.
The economically-dominant Adi tribe inhabits Siang district. This group includes the Pailibo, Gallong, Ashing, Minyong and Padam communities. The Lohit district is home to the Mishmis, which include the Idu, Taram, Kaman or Miju. The Tangsa, Nocte and Wancho tribes which inhabit the Tirap district are migrants from Myanmar.
The Sherdukpen society is characterised by a system of social stratification. The Akas have an inter-village organisation of regional nature, and worship Teharo, their supreme God, besides elemental forces like the wind, sun, rain etc. Similarly, the Nishis worship Ane Duini (the Sun God) and their religion revolves around the worship of vi (spirits) and orum (ghosts).
Traditional village institutions like the youth dormitories or morungs and village councils (kebangs) have considerably declined, though girls? dormitories can still be found in some villages.
Art and culture
The people of Arunachal Pradesh have a tradition of artistic craftsmanship. These skills are visible in a variety of crafts such as weaving, painting, pottery, blacksmithy, basket-weaving and wood carving. Monpas are known for their artistry in weaving carpets and making painted wooden vessels. Beautiful rugs are also woven in the Adi area. Vivid colours and exquisite designs/patterns are hallmarks of their weaving. Apatanis, Hill Miris and Adis make attractive articles out of cane and bamboo. The Wanchos are famous for their wood and bamboo carved figurines. They also make intricate necklaces from colourful beads.
Some important festivals in Arunachal Pradesh include the Mopin and Solung of the Adis, Lossar of the Monpas and Sherdukpens, Boori-boot of the Hill Miris, Dree of the Apatanis, Si-donyi of the Tagins, Nyokum of the Nishis, Reh of the Idu Mishmis and Sangker of the Khamptis.
Efforts to usher in agricultural productivity have been initiated, with 48 state plan schemes, 20 central sector schemes and seven centrally-sponsored ones. Besides the SC/ST farmers? scheme to popularise mechanised cultivation, special benefits are provided to marginal farmers. The main thrust is on rice cultivation, which is the staple diet, besides cash crops such as pulse, oilseeds and horticultural crops like apples, pineapples and oranges.
With a 14,000 kilometre road network, the state can also boast of an installed power capacity of over 50,000 kilowatts with numerous mini-hydro electric projects. Besides implementation of rural employment schemes, socio-economic uplift plans like afforestation and regeneration, forest protection and development, scientific harnessing of forest produce, Apna Van and people?s nursery schemes are also under way. Though banking and marketing have made much headway, there is still much left to be done. Literacy has crossed the 54 per cent mark and the hardworking and industrious Arunachalis have made significant strides in recent years.
Nature has bestowed Arunachal Pradesh with breathtaking scenic beauty. Adventure sport enthusiasts can take their pick in angling, boating, rafting, trekking or hiking. The 350-year-old Tawang Monastery, Tipi Orchidarium, Parasuram Kund, Namdapha Tiger Reserve, the archaeological ruins of Malinithan, the Akash Ganga waterfalls, besides terraced tea gardens are places to visit. Ziro, Bomdila, Bhalukpong, Along, Pasighat, Tezu, Miao and Roing too offer idyllic surroundings. Much still needs to be done to develop the area for ecotourism and help it retain its traditions.
Entry formalities require Inner Line Permits (ILP) to be acquired from the Resident Commissioner or any Liaison Officer under the Government of Arunachal Pradesh in New Delhi and the other cities like Kolkata, Guwahati, Jorhat and Dibrugarh. Visitors should contact the state Department of Tourism or the district administration concerned for reservations in guest houses, hotels, circuit houses and dak bungalows.